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Kate Riga

Kate Riga is a news writer for Talking Points Memo based in New York City. Before joining TPM, Kate was the political reporter for The Southampton Press. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and a native of Philadelphia.

Articles by Kate

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Thursday that President Donald Trump “disagrees” with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to haul in a list of Americans for questioning in exchange for giving the U.S. access to the 12 indicted Russian hackers.

“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” Sanders said in a written statement. “Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

On Monday during the press conference after the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, Trump called the idea an “incredible offer.” On Wednesday, Sanders said that the team was still debating whether or not they’d made the trade.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, one of the Americans on the list, has been outspoken in his anger that Trump did not outrightly reject the deal, and has been backed up by many State Department officials.

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In a remarkable break with U.S. intelligence agencies, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted Thursday that there was no evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election with the express purpose of helping then-candidate Donald Trump win.

At first, Nielsen distinguished between efforts targeted at election infrastructure in the U.S. and other attempts to meddle.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party,” she said at the Aspen Institute’s Security Forum in Colorado. “I think what we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides.”

She also mentioned that Russia continued to sow discord after Trump’s election, citing activity related to the white nationalist rally and attack on counter-protesters in Charlottesville, after which Trump blamed “both sides.”

When pushed about intelligence agencies’ findings—in three separate assessments from the intelligence community, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee—that the Russians definitively did hack the election to help Trump win, Nielsen danced around the issue and would not name Trump himself.

“It was in an effort to attack certain political parties that we know about more than others, so we’ll continue to look and see what that means and be prepared for the next time,” she said.

This is not the first time Nielsen declined to state that Russian’s election meddling was aimed at helping Trump — she made similar comments in May.

Nielsen also refused to name Russian Vladimir Putin as part of the hacking effort, placing the blame broadly with “Russian government actors.”

Watch below:

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Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has found himself on a list of Americans that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants for questioning in exchange for giving the U.S. access to the 12 Russian election meddlers.

On Thursday, he said that both Putin’s “cockamamie” accusations against Americans and President Donald Trump’s refusal to reject outright Putin’s request are “lamentable,” “shocking” and make America look “weak.”

“Most shocking and just lamentable, I think was my real reaction when the White House was given the opportunity to categorically reject this moral equivalency between a legitimate indictment with lots of data and evidence to support it from Mr. Mueller, with a crazy, cockamamie scheme with no relation to facts whatsoever — the White House refused to do that,” McFaul said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

McFaul said that he thinks it’s unlikely that he will be turned over to the Russian government, but he has lawyered up and is well-versed in his rights, including the option to go before a judge if the Department of Justice did sign off to release him to Putin.

Putin reportedly has a long-held grudge against McFaul, who has written extensively on his human rights record.

McFaul added that he worries that Trump’s lack of knowledge led him to “nod along” with whatever Putin wanted, including possibly selling McFaul down the river.

“This is an active intimidation against me, and it’s gonna create problems for me in the long term. My government, I hope, will step up today and categorically swat this back—when I say my government, I mean my President of the United States of America,” McFaul said. “When he just said last night America is no longer under attack—I’m sorry. I’m an American. I’m under attack by Vladimir Putin right now.”

“It is chilling,” he continued. “The notion that our President just kind of very casually said, ‘Oh, yeah let’s have our diplomats be interrogated.’ I want to be clear, to be interrogated because they think we’re criminals.”

He added that Trump’s refusal to push back against Putin’s demands makes America look “weak” on the global stage and fulfills Putin’s “wildest dreams.”

State Department officials have reacted strongly in opposition to the deal and FBI Director Christopher Wray was dismissive of it as a viable possibility.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during her Wednesday press briefing that Trump’s team is still deliberating on what Trump called an “incredible offer” on Monday.

Watch below:

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House Democrats have tossed their original midterm slogan, “A Better Deal,” in favor of “For The People,” hoping to elicit more inspiration and less mockery, according to a Wednesday Politico report.

Democrats are trying to fine tune their economic-based message to ward off lingering doubts from the 2016 election that the party lacks focus and clear policy positions.

Per Politico, Democrats intend to invoke the phrase in relation to health care and drug costs, higher wages from infrastructure and public works jobs and pillorying the Republican swamp in D.C.

Those issue areas offer Democrats a double-pronged opportunity to make President Donald Trump and his party look bad, and to offer hopeful, future-based solutions.

The quiet rollout of the new slogan—a contrast to the well-publicized introduction of “A Better Deal,” which earned little more than eye-rolls—is also an attempt to showcase authenticity and a genuine attempt to reach out to workers and middle class voters who felt abandoned by the Democrats in 2016.

According to Politico, the new motto will also separate the Democrats from the Republicans who recently announced their midterm slogan: “Better Off Now.”

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Primarily due to business-related international trips, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump have racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded Secret Service costs, including one month so expensive it came close to a quarter million dollars, according to a Wednesday Politico report.

In documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by D.C. watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a February 2017 trip for the brothers to Dubai to open a Trump-branded golf club included $125,000 for airfare, $75,000 for hotel rooms and $15,000 for other costs like car service.

The same month, Eric Trump took a solo journey to the Dominican Republic to look into reviving a Trump resort, an effort that cost the taxpayer $30,000.

Later, the two also attended a 2018 Dubai wedding coming in at $73,000 in total security costs.

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Former first lady Michelle Obama will jump into the midterm fray–but in a strictly nonpartisan way that worries Democrats but satisfies her dislike of partisan politics, according to a Wednesday Politico report.

The voter registration initiative, “When We All Vote,” is set to launch Thursday, and will see Obama alongside stars like Tom Hanks and Lin-Manuel Miranda featured in PSAs to encourage participation.

As elections near, there will reportedly be rallies and trainings, following by weeks of concentrated efforts to get people registered.

Her endeavor is worrying some candidates and operatives that she’ll run the nonpartisan organization in lieu of actively campaigning for candidates in a crucially important midterm election.

This causes particular dread since Obama is widely seen as one of the most effective and charismatic campaign trail surrogates, possessing all of her husband’s fame and likability without his political baggage.

Per Politico, Michelle Obama’s staff has been vacillating on whether she’ll also do campaign trail appearances.

However, she has another motive, less tied to personal preference, informing why she may opt to stay apolitical: her memoir “Becoming” is due out shortly after election day, with an accompanying book tour that her staff would reportedly prefer to be untainted by politics.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) signaled through his counsel Wednesday that he is ready and willing to okay a criminal investigation into the Trump Foundation, if state prosecutors want to take up the case alongside their ongoing civil lawsuit, according to a Wednesday CNN report.

“At Gov. Cuomo’s direction, the state stands ready to provide the Attorney General with the appropriate criminal referral on this matter if and when she asks for it,” the statement reads.

However, per CNN, a criminal case would likely mean a halt in the civil one, which has been running since June and includes allegations of illegal misconduct and coordination between the foundation and the Trump campaign. Thus, prosecutors would likely choose to wait on the criminal action until the civil lawsuit runs its course.

“As our lawsuit against the Trump Foundation illustrates, we intend to hold the Foundation and its directors accountable for all violations of state law,” Amy Spitalnick, a New York attorney general spokeswoman, told CNN. “We continue to evaluate the evidence to determine what additional actions may be warranted, and will seek a criminal referral from the appropriate state agency as necessary. We’ve already referred apparent violations of federal law to the IRS and FEC.”

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President Donald Trump’s clumsy attempt to walk back his disastrous performance at the joint presser with Russian President Vladimir Putin has fallen short for many skittish Republicans who are on the record criticizing his initial remarks, according to a Wednesday Politico report.

Many have yet to hear from chief of staff John Kelly, who often plays cleanup after Trump’s mishits, and have reportedly chosen to surge forward in their attempts to pass legislation blocking Russia from or punishing Russia for future election interference.

“In the end, we can present people with information. But you can’t force anyone to say what you want them to say, especially the President of the United States,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told Politico. “Our job is to pass laws and do things that are for the good of the country … and one of those things should be [imposing] strong deterrence measures with pre-positioned penalties should [Russian meddling] ever happen again.”

Many feel that they have no other option but to press on alone, as Trump has displayed such a clear unwillingness to genuinely change his tune on Putin.

“You could see it was very painful,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told Politico of Trump’s attempted walk-back where he said he “misspoke” during the presser.

For many Republicans, Trump’s nonchalant throwing of the FBI under the bus was a bridge too far.

Trump’s bungled retraction is “probably the best we’re going to be able to get, right?” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) told Politico. “He attempted to clarify it, but ineffectively. The last couple days certainly haven’t been an example of a willingness to express support for what the intelligence community is clearly telling us.”

“He’s got to acknowledge that there’s a consensus among our intelligence agencies, including our committees here on Capitol Hill, not only that the Russians interfered and meddled with our elections in 2016, but are doing it again in 2018,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) added. “And that’s why we need to take action.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) voiced a common sentiment that Trump looks weak and feckless in his refusal to believably condemn Putin for the hackers’ actions to undermine America’s democracy.

“I think [Trump] sent very conflicting, mixed messages to someone who is clearly our adversary, about whom there is absolutely no doubt that he attempted to interfere in our elections,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) strongly feels he needs to tell Putin “no more. Knock it off. Stay away. Get out. And demand that Russia stay away when it comes to our elections. And I didn’t hear that in his walk-back,” she added. “I’m still waiting.”

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When asked about the arrest of Mariia Butina, the Russian national charged with acting as a foreign agent, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pivoted to the brief frenzy of speculation earlier this week that Butina was present during an Oval Office meeting with President Trump.

“But just to clarify, there was massive media hysteria yesterday over confusion between that individual and a White House staffer, which I think shows, frankly, the outrageousness and the desire to find the negative in everything that this President does,” she said after dodging the question.

“Just because somebody is redheaded, they were accused of being some sort of spy for Russia. I think that this has gotten totally out of control,” she continued. “You guys need to take a little bit of a step back, slow down, and quit going after the Trump administration on every single thing that takes place.”

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Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders returns to her podium Wednesday afternoon, a spot she has not occupied since July 2.

In June, she was there only five times to deliver her “daily” White House press briefing.

The relative wealth of May still boasted only eight briefings plus one Sanders-led gaggle and one briefing led by her deputy, Raj Shah.

Granted, President Donald Trump has been traveling, and granted, he sometimes takes questions en route to Air Force One or after Cabinet meetings.

But the low point in face time with the press secretary coincides with some awfully big developments for the administration.

Since Sanders’ absence, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt resigned, Trump wreaked havoc at the G7 Summit, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stepped down and Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for his spot, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) was accused of negligence and lying about sexual assault by nine people, 12 Russians were indicted for hacking the 2016 election and, of course, Trump refused on an international stage to disavow the leader of the country that oversaw the hacking.

Those all seem like things reporters should have a chance to ask about without shouting over the shoulders of press aides desperately ushering them out of the Cabinet room.

It’s unclear why Sanders has been so absent. The new communications chief Bill Shine came aboard June 5, so perhaps he had a hand in her new, empty, schedule.

And Sanders herself has had a rough go of it lately — she was booted from the Red Hen in late June and earned an extremely lackluster defense by her boss, surfacing reports that Trump is souring on her. After days of being hammered by the press corps about her false statement on the infamous Trump tower meeting and defending the brutal family separation policy, rumors started to swirl that she was eyeing the exits (she has denied this).

Well, at least she hasn’t missed much. It should be a nice day back.

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